Oh how I dreaded the days of corporal punishment in school. Every teacher had a paddle and none were afraid to use it on unruly children. Some teachers painted their wooden torture instruments red. I always assumed this was to hide any evidence of blood from the legendary paddlings that everyone knew and feared. A few teachers would display their paddles, more akin to a boat oar than anything else, as a warning to be on your best behavior. The teachers that everyone feared the most were the few that named their paddles. Dreadful names like “Punisher” and “Equilizer” emblazoned in bright letters, carved lovingly into the handles were whispered to younger kids on the playground. Of course every school also has the one teacher that is rumored to be the spawn of twelve demons, for why other than sadistic joy would an educator drill holes into the paddle! Increasing the air flow to allow maximum velocity as it strikes your rear, increasing the agony tremendously.
Even the elderly teachers would paddle a student that disrupted class. I had one teacher, an older woman maybe in her 60s. Great social studies teacher she was. I don’t remember much of her class, but I don’t remember dreading it so it couldn’t have been bad. Now she wasn’t ancient, but she wasn’t the most physically intimidating of teachers. Everyone was a little more relaxed in her class, a bit more talkative. I remember she would often beat a yard stick on the desk. The loud slap echoed across the room as the flat wooden ruler struck the desk. Order would be quickly restored, yet her threats were not enough to maintain constant order. Being viewed as non-threatening, my friends and I would often talk out of turn, pass notes, and generally be more disruptive than usual. Without any real fear of punishment from her it was an extended recess many days for us. One day however, one of my good friends would not stop talking. I don’t remember why, probably a new girl he liked, but even after two warnings he continued to talk. The loud crack of the ruler drew everyone’s attention immediately. The teacher did not look happy in the slightest. Telling him to be quiet for the third time, then realizing it would not deter him further she instructed him to come to the front of the class to get a paddling.
First off, the front of the classroom? Getting paddled was always a hidden hallway activity, away from the judging eyes of your peers. A class was the most silent when a student was in the hallway, awaiting swift wooden judgment. This was simply so the class could listen intently to the spanking, straining to overhear any escaped whimpers or sobs. The ones who cried would get reminded for weeks of their pitiful lack of fortitude. The tough kids would quietly accept their punishment, force back any tears of pain, and return to class as if they had only stepped out to get some water from the fountain. Of course every eye in the room followed them as they returned to their seat, desperately searching for any sign of weakness to prey upon. The tell-tale sitting in the desk was usually what separated the fakers from the truly tough ones.
But this time was different. A public punishment was a feast for all, any grimaces would be easily apparent. Being a close friend of the poor soul standing in front of the class awaiting punishment, I watched intently. Quickly surveying the room I noticed that only our group of friends were watching. The shame of a spanking for all to witness was starting to affect the class. Instead of devouring the display with eyes hungry for the later ridiculing, like we were doing, most students began to avert their eyes. Some simply dropped their gaze to examine the years of graffiti on their desk, others outright shielded their eyes from the torture. This diminutive woman had discovered a simple way to overcome her lack of physical intimidation, the spectacle of a shameful public punishment overshadowed the physicality of the spanking. This woman was an evil genius.
She simply stared at him with a cold stare of disappointment, furthering the building shame. Then she walked towards the chalkboard with her back to the room. One tap of the chalk on the slate, followed by a squeak as she wrote caught the attention of some in the classroom. What mad scheme had she imagined to further the punishment of my friend? I eagerly awaited, yet a small feeling of dread began to settle in my stomach watching the confusion on the face of the accused. I pushed that feeling aside assuming it was because lunch was still two hours away. A gasp from a girl beside me drew my attention away from my hunger- guilt pains and back to the monumental episode in front of me.
On the chalkboard was a single circle, maybe 8 inches in diameter. It was drawn on the lower portion of the board almost level with my churning stomach. Then, with one sentence, I understood the depths of depravity my friends and I had driven this woman to.
“Bend forward at the waist and place your head in the circle please.”
My friend’s face twisted horribly as conflicting emotions tore at him. Confusion muddled with horror, topped with a sprinkling of shame played across his visage for all to see. I couldn’t look at him. His eyes cried out for someone to save him from this emotional torment that is sure to haunt his dreams forever. Unable to end the diabolical events unfolding, I lowered my head in shame. The wooden desk felt cold to my feverishly hot forehead and I closed my eyes hoping to escape into another world.
“Two for every time I have had to speak to you today.”
Squeezing my eyes as tight as possible I held my breath, fearfully anticipating the six whacks he was about to receive. I didn’t look but I pictured the tears that were assuredly streaming down his cheeks. I never imagined such a sweet, timid teacher could contrive such sadistic methods of punishment. Her maliciousness was hidden so well behind the false facade of soft talk and sweet smiles. With my head down, I imagined her sitting in a candlelit cave, deviously scheming of various methods to torturing her students. My nightmare was interrupted as the teacher set about her task. A sharp crack filled the room, immediately followed by the thud of his head impacting the chalkboard. The only other sound heard was the muffled groan that slipped through my friend’s gnashing teeth. The thick sense of dread was heavy in the silent classroom. Another succession of three distinct sounds broke the silence. Six strikes of fury later, I finally dared to look up from my mental hiding place. My friend slowly returned to his desk, his eyes and cheeks slightly damp from the few tears that escaped. He gingerly sat, obviously in pain as his tender butt connected with the unforgiving wooden seat. His right hand was on top of his head as if he was trying to stop from hitting the chalkboard again. At that moment I was sure he had a traumatic brain injury.
From that day forth the entire class became ideal students. Not a person spoke out of turn, manners spewed from us without pause, and everyone smiled as we sat intently learning all that we could. We were better behaved in there than in Wood Shop, where The Equilizer, air holes and all, sat on the coach’s desk in a specially crafted display stand. The sheer intimidation factor of this tiny woman’s presence had forever altered our outlook towards what we could get away with. It’s strange how a healthy dose of fear affects youth. Disrespect towards any authority figure was an unforgivable crime growing up. Our attitudes towards our teacher had changed, however not shaped purely by fear. The fear of punishment was merely a reminder of the respect we were expected to show. Prior to that day, there did not appear to be severe consequences for misbehaving. Once we saw what happened from acting up, we became constantly reminded of the respect we should have shown all along. We thought we could use her frailty to ignore manners and respect. Instead she used her frailty and ingenuity to make a lasting impression.
This horrific incident must have had lasting psychological effects on everyone involved. One would assume the teacher was fired as soon as the school authorities learned of this obvious criminal act. Lawsuits for emotional damages were more than likely filed against the school board and possibly a civil suit against the teacher. Of course my friend was mentally scarred for life, enduring years of intensive psychotherapy to repair the emotional damage, unless he refused treatment and planned murderous revenge for the one moment his life was forever ruined. The public shaming of course had its impact and forced him to be a hate-filled recluse. I am also sure that some of the students that witnessed the tragedy also needed years of therapy to deal with their memories of the account and to cope with the trauma they survived.
No. Not even close.
My friend is actually a successful building manager for a large factory. I once asked him if he remembered the incident, which he couldn’t recall (result of the brain damage I am sure). Then slowly the memories came back and we both laughed about it for hours. I proceeded to embellish the memories by remembering the wailing and sobbing he spewed to the class. I reminded him of how I laughed loudly at his torment. None of which were true but it made our memories better. It was a minor event that played a minuscule role in our childhood development. I am positive that the teachers of today appreciate the volumes of ingenious punishment methods handed down to them. The incident with my friend was around 30 years ago, so the knowledge a teacher has now must dwarf what they knew then. I am sure having these diabolical methods for keeping students in line has resulted in a population of respectful students, eager to learn all that is offered. Those “reminders of respect” have impacted my adult life in numerous ways. I tend to hold doors open for people I don’t know, I use “please” a lot more than I ever thought I would, and I still treat my elders with respect. All the years of spankings impacted me as an adult so that I am respectful without conscious thought. The results of the punishment is evident, even though I oddly cannot recall how a single spanking felt. In fact I barely remember them happening, though I know they did. I remember the first time I received a spanking in school. It was second grade and to this day I swear I was set up, but that’s another story. I remember being punished, but the details other than “it happened” are lost to me. They did alter me psychologically as some claim. The punishments molded a rebellious youth into a respectful adult. Viewing those my age and older I can sense how their own punishments shaped them into who they are today. So with all this knowledge perfected over the years, the youth today must be the model of perfection, studious, respectful, and polite. Teaching must be an easy profession these days with so many respectful students. I am only glad that no one ever put a stop to disciplining children for being disrespectful. I am sure it would have a negative impact on the youth today.